Study highlights injury risk to young rugby players

Young rugby players from Hawick High School and Edinburgh's Royal High fight for the ball. Picture: SNS
Young rugby players from Hawick High School and Edinburgh's Royal High fight for the ball. Picture: SNS
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THE extent of rugby as a cause of sports-related injuries among youngsters has come under the spotlight in a new study carried out by a former University of Edinburgh professor.

Analysis revealed that almost 20 per cent of sporting injuries among ten to 19-year-olds in hospital casualty units are related to rugby.

The study by Professor Allyson Pollock, logged the injuries in two accident and emergency departments over two years.

It found that of the 3,950 sports-related injuries recorded by doctors over that period, 690, some of them serious, were suffered in rugby union or league games.

The figures from a limited study in Oxfordshire hospitals add fuel to rising concern that the sport is becoming too hazardous, particularly for younger players, and has prompted fresh calls for tackling to be banned in certain age groups.

In September Scotland’s chief medical officer launched an appeal for parents not to stop their children from playing rugby amid growing fears over the risk of injury.

Dr Catherine Calderwood said the physical and mental health benefits of sport are “considerable” in an article for the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

But she warned the growing risk of concussion must be properly managed or participation levels could fall away.

However, Pollock, who established the Centre for International Public Health Policy at the University of Edinburgh, said tackling, during which two-thirds of concussions and three quarters of all injuries occur – should be removed when young people play.

On the study, said: “It’s a worryingly high figure.

“It’s a sport with a very high number of A&E attendances at great cost to the NHS and to young children. Some of the injuries are very serious.”

Pollock, who is professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London, said research was now needed to uncover the UK-wide toll of injury from the game. However, she said her statistics were “a good indication” of what was likely to be happening around the country.

“One of the big problems is children try to mirror the professional players,” she added. “They may look like they have muscle and bulk, but their brains are still developing and their bones are still growing.

“That makes them very, very vulnerable.”

However, a spokesman for the Scottish Rugby Union said that “children get injured playing all different types of sport” and “rugby takes player safety very seriously”. He said that rules were already different depending on children’s ages. For those in P1 to P3, it is just touch rugby, and for those in P4 to P7 all tackles must be below the waist.